Monday, October 14, 2013

Proper 23 of Series C (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning come from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to Saint Timothy. Dear friends in Christ, Paul writes the words of our text as a dying man. We know him as Saint Paul, but to the Roman authorities, he is simply Paul the prisoner, Paul the troublemaker, Paul the one condemned to die. When Ananias was sent to baptize Paul, the Lord said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Paul has seen it, he now knows. The great apostle, the preacher of the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world, who traveled from city to city, establishing congregations and preaching Christ, now languishes in chains. He is bound, confined, imprisoned, and this time, there is no getting out. Paul the apostle will become Paul the martyr. His companions see it, they understand, and they take offense, as he recounts to Timothy: “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me.” Paul has been abandoned, left alone, in this his greatest trial, and by the end of the letter, he is literally begging Timothy to come see him. The greatest preacher in the history of the Church is bound, confined by chains he cannot break.

The man, the preacher, is bound, but is his message? Is God’s Word bound when the preacher of that Word is shackled with chains? Can God’s Word be confined by the evils of this world? People are certainly bound, bound by suffering, bound by disease, bound by sin and death. Naomi, a believer in the true God, who had heard His Word and believed, traveled to another land to escape suffering, but instead, suffering was all that she found. At the end, she had suffered the death of a husband and two sons, and the abandonment of a daughter-in-law. God’s Word didn’t spare her life from the scourge of death, it didn’t keep her from being left alone. Is God’s Word bound? It certainly seems to have no power over death. She laments: “It is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 

Ten lepers dwelled outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. Through no fault of their own, these men were outcasts, unclean, unable to interact with their families or with their people. Like Paul, like Naomi and Ruth, these men are alone. They are believers, that much is clear. They have heard God’s Word and have believed. But this Word seems to have no power over their disease. If they believe, why do they suffer so? Is God’s Word bound? It certainly seems to have no power over leprosy. All they can do is cry at a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Is God’s Word bound? Death seems to hold it in shackles, disease has covered it in chains, suffering puts it in prison. God’s Word seems to have no power over such things, no ability to break through the chains that this world’s sin have placed around it and us. God’s Word seems bound when we gather around a deathbed, it seems bound when we hear a diagnosis of cancer or any other disease. God’s Word seems bound when we get the phone call that we all dread, bringing news of tragedy. God’s Word seems bound when we struggle with our sin, when we see clearly the looming threat of death. God’s Word seems bound when the preacher of that Word suffers in prison, awaiting the sentence of death. The world laughs at the weakness of the Word, declaring, “You want to conquer me with mere words?” The world knows of no words that can bring an end to suffering, no words that can reverse death.

And we Christians, whether we do this consciously or not, agree. God’s Word seems to have little power against this world of sin and death, and so we don’t speak it. We bind God’s Word by our silence. That was Timothy’s temptation, and it is ours even today: to doubt God’s Word, to see it as a weak, powerless proclamation. Christians are tempted to keep it from the world because we are afraid it has no power there. This is easy to do when we are faced with suffering, when we experience death, when we see the Church assaulted and persecuted, when preachers are put into jail and even killed for proclaiming that Word. The Word of God seems to have no power over such afflictions, and so in fear we keep it bound. We don’t speak it to unbelieving neighbors, to those who suffer, we keep it in shackles, but Paul will have no such thing:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound!” Is God’s Word bound? ‘No!’ God’s Word isn’t bound when its preachers are thrown into prison, God’s Word isn’t bound when those who believe this Word suffer and even die. In the midst of Naomi and Ruth’s sufferings, as they were surrounded by death, God’s Word bore its fruit. Ruth, the Moabite woman, born among idol-worshippers, confessed boldly, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” And this foreigner received salvation through faith, becoming an ancestor of Jesus Himself. The Word of God is not bound! The ten lepers lifted up their voices to Jesus, the descendent of Ruth according to the flesh, and cried out for mercy. And Jesus responded, with a Word: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke tells us, “As they went, they were cleansed.” The Word of God is not bound! It has power over even the uncleanness of leprosy, it has the power to create faith even in the hearts of foreigners: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

The Word of God is not bound, it sets free! It breaks chains, it is not confined by them. This world may laugh at the weakness of the Word, but it does so in foolish ignorance. Despite all its seeming weakness, it is this Word that overcomes the world. Why? Because this Word proclaims Christ. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel.” Jesus was raised from death to set all people free, to break the bonds of death, to destroy sin’s chains. Jesus is the Word of God; He is the proclamation that goes forth to set all people free, for He is the One, the only One, who has defeated death through His own death for our sake, who bore the sin of the world to the cross and paid the price for it there. He has conquered this world’s power, He has destroyed the tyranny of death, He has defeated all disease and suffering, and this victory is trumpeted forth by those who proclaim the Word of God. The only true end to all suffering, death and disease, is found in Christ. The Church proclaims the Word which sets free, and though the world may laugh, it may scoff at it, on the Last Day only that Word will endure, with all those whom it has claimed.

“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” Those who die with Christ will live with Him, those who endure sufferings will reign with Him. We were put to death in our baptism, drowned in those waters, with the sure and certain promise that those who die with Christ will also live with Him.  Those who have died with Him in Baptism have the sure and certain confidence that when they die with Him in faith, they will live forever in eternal glory. The opposite is also true: those who deny Him will be denied, but unbelievers can deny Him all that they want: His Word is not bound, and it overcomes the world. His victory over sin and death is true, whether you or anyone else believes it. The Word doesn’t seem like much: spoken at a bedside, proclaimed from a pulpit, joined to water, bread and wine. But it is this Word that overcomes death itself, for those who die with Jesus will live with Him.

The Word of God is not bound! Saint Paul’s suffering for the sake of the Word, his chains, were for the good of many. “Therefore, I endure everything for the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” He was bound, but the Word was not, and through that Word, Christ would bring many to faith. The Word of God is not bound, but is freely confessed by the Church, for it is the Word that sets all people free. Paul gave this charge to Timothy, which is the charge given to the entire Church: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others.” The Word that sets free, the Word that makes alive, has been passed from generation to generation, from pulpit to pulpit, and it has gone throughout the world to set many free from sin, free from death.  The Word of God is certainly not bound! In the name of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, preached by Paul in chains and by the Church to set all people free, Amen.

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